These lovely beings to my left are the Redeemer dancers who never stopped moving during the closing service. I am not sure how many folks in the congregation (which overflowed into the balcony) realized the stunning amount of work those dancers put into performing one dance after another during the whole 2-hour-45-minute length of the service. Here they are dancing “Glory Be to Jesus” and using the choreography, I am happy to say, that I created for that dance 20-some years ago.
I wish I could say the diocese sent one of its bishops to be at the closing ceremony but no, they sent Ann Normand, a canon priest who was nice enough and who tried not to get in the way of what was going on but considering Redeemer’s historical place in the city, the diocese could have freed up someone of much higher rank. But she was also there to do the “deconsecration ceremony” soon after we all filed out of the church after the recessional. That, for those of you who don’t know it, effectively un-sanctifies the church in terms of allowing Communion – or any other sacrament – to be celebrated there. Deconsecration today, changing the locks tomorrow, wrecking ball to come – yep, we can see where this is going.
Anyway, they really put on the dog for the closing service. The 2 front rows were taken up by members of the Tellepsen family (their grandfather Torjus is who built the place in 1932) and I was amazed by how many people came in using walkers! Hmmm. George Mims and Max Dyer did a lovely prelude improvising on cello and organ variations of songs such as “Psalm 27” and “Alleluyahweh” (or however it’s spelled) before the processional, at which point everyone sang “Jesus is Our King” in parts. Only Redeemer has a congregation that can do this. Banners were waving everywhere with yeoman work being done by the choir and small orchestra.
A bunch of congregants joined in the next dance, “God Make Us Your Family” as well as many of my friends (I stayed put) and I felt I was transported into the future, watching some heavenly procession of all the people I knew dancing away. The sermon, by Redeemer’s youth minister, Mark Ball, was quite good. I wrote down this quote: “Everything we love about Redeemer will be kept safe. It is at the end of a a thing that we see clearly that all the good was from God and all the ill was from men.”
Eventually came the “prayers of the people” in which the intercessions went on and ON. Leading these prayers was (I think) the senior warden (he never introduced himself) and at one point the prayers segued into naming the Redeemerites who had died which was quite moving. People were crying as they prayed. After all, we were at a funeral; the funeral of a church. One person did mention Graham Pulkingham’s name during this time for which I was glad; Graham had not even been mentioned this whole weekend, which I felt was a bit bizarre considering none of us would have been here were it not for what happened to Graham in 1964 and the resulting events that catapulted Redeemer on national and international stages.
Then Tom Tellepsen II, grandson of Torjus, made a few remarks, saying the land for the church was bought in 1919, a church was started in 1920 (and added to later) and he pointed out people in the congregation who were descendants of the original people for whom the parish hall and downstairs chapel had been named. He also pointed out June Tellepsen, 95, the daughter-in-law of Torjus and Ingeborg and wife of Howard (who I think I interviewed in 1990. He has since died).
Tom’s closing prayer: “May God continue to look over you, invigorate you and shine his light on a church opening a new frontier in its journey of faith. It is time. Amen.”
For Communion, waves and waves of people walked down the aisle, many whom I’d not seen in decades. Again, there was this feeling that we were all in some heavenly procession and this was a dim foretaste of when the roll is called up yonder. Paul Felton showed up to assist at the altar and it was so good to see a familiar clergy face up there.
Well, I loved being there. Mark and Elise Ashey (and son Sam) showed up – all of whom I’d not seen in ages, so we all went outside for the Last Redeemer Church Photo and then ate lunch together at a giant potluck in the parish hall. There were some bittersweet moments; a number of people at this gathering couldn’t stand my book and either refused to talk to me or turned away when I approached them or looked past me. But there were others who came up and thanked me for writing it. Some had just ordered it (being quoted in the Houston Chronicle 2 days before had helped) like one woman who came up to say, “I was one of the women in the book who was raped!” Wasn’t sure how to respond there but she was grateful, in fact, that that part of Redeemer history (about how dangerous the neighborhood was) had not been forgotten. Others came up to buy a copy.
But all too soon the dream ended and off to the airport I went. My plane was delayed 2 hours; we didn’t even land til close to 1:30 a.m. and then (for fear of lightning) Dulles airport made our plane sit and sit on the tarmac. I didn’t get home til nearly 4 a.m. I know the church is more than the building but it’s the saddest feeling to know that in future trips to Houston, I won’t be able to enter that church and wander down its hallways and about the sanctuary nor sit there in the dim evening light gazing at that wonderful mural. I’ve never attended another church like it; in fact I never officially transferred my membership out of there so a piece of me is gone and that’s so very sad.